Interview With Alan Brennert
(December 2014)

While Alan Brennert only wrote one issue of DAREDEVIL, it was a memorable tale of Ben Urich and his wife as they try to navigate the minefield of having a new home and selling out to achieve their dreams. It was drawn and colored by Klaus Janson, who had just finished his legendary run with Frank Miller. Many thanks to Mr. Brennert for this interview and I hope you all enjoy this look back at the story and hearing about some surprises you may not have known.

Kuljit Mithra: While you wrote one issue of DAREDEVIL (#192), I would hesitate to call it a "fill-in" because it didn't exist in its own bubble. It tied into many elements that had preceded it, although it did focus on Ben and Doris Urich. While this was over 30 years ago, I was wondering what you remember most about writing this issue, and what it must have been like following the final issue of the popular Miller & Janson run.

Alan Brennert: I remember this assignment quite vividly. As I heard it later, no one at Marvel wanted to follow Frank Miller's impressive and seminal run on DAREDEVIL, but Denny O'Neil, the editor, had read my Batman stories, liked them, and on a flyer called me up to offer me issue #192 to write. He had no idea that Daredevil was my favorite Marvel character, and I jumped at the chance. I had been reading Frank Miller's run and loved it; I even spoke briefly to Frank by phone to discuss his take on the character. I remember asking him how he saw DD's radar sense, and I'll never forget his reply: "I think it's like touching everything around him at once." (That never made it into my story, but I did pass it on to my pal Mark Waid when he took over DAREDEVIL.)

"Promises" is a fill-in issue in the sense that it has a self-contained story, but it never occurred to me not to put in those elements tying into Frank's run. Klaus Janson was stylistically similar to Frank's art, and I'd written enough episodic television at that point to know that the guy doing the fill-in/freelance script should keep the tone consistent with what had gone before. At the same time, I grew up reading the Stan Lee/Gene Colan run of DAREDEVIL, and I wanted to inject a little of that snappy banter Stan was so good at; I especially enjoyed writing the scene where Matt deflects Foggy's where-have-you-been spiel with references to The Maltese Falcon. And I think I also brought a little of my own style of comics writing.more low-key drama, less the table. But overall I wanted it to seem relatively seamless with what had gone before. And maybe because I loved Daredevil and was just so pleased to have a shot at writing him, I didn't feel particularly intimidated following Frank. But that may also have been due to Frank's graciousness to me in our phone conversation, in which he told me he liked my Batman stories and thought I would make a good regular writer on DD, though he knew that writing a monthly book wasn't something I was interested in.

(Denny did ask me to write another issue, which I started but ran aground on.--I had just lost a close friend to leukemia and I was having occasional writer's block due to depression. Denny thanked me for giving him a heads-up, and he took my idea.--Heather Glenn, while drunk, accidentally reveals that Matt is DD.--and wrote a fine script himself. That's why that issue has a "special thanks to Alan Brennert" blurb.)

Mithra: I was going to ask you about the "Special Thanks" in issue #195... I never knew the Heather Glenn reveal was your idea. How come you were not interested in taking on the book monthly?

Brennert: Writing comics has always been a hobby with me; despite having spent time in comics fandom as a teenager (or maybe because of it) I never had any ambition to be a full-time comic book writer. I'm a novelist and that I think about it, I may have been the first full-time screenwriter to dabble in comics, back before it became fashionable!--but I enjoyed writing the occasional comic story purely out of love for the characters. At the time I wrote DD #192 I was also writing teleplays for Simon & Simon and other TV shows, so it just wasn't feasible for me to take on a monthly book. And I like doing one-off stories.beginning, middle, and end.and then moving on to something different.

Mithra: One of the things that has always left an impression on me about your story in #192 is how it somewhat foreshadows what's going to happen a few years later in Born Again... how Kingpin is trying to have as many people "in his pocket" as possible. What was your initial interest in writing a story about Ben and Doris Urich?

Brennert: Well, if Frank Miller in BORN AGAIN was keeping continuity with what I established as one of the Kingpin's methods, I'm flattered. But that sort of thing was also a staple of crime fiction and drama (as well as real life.-hey, I grew up in New Jersey!) so he probably got it from the same sources I did.

I liked Ben Urich as a character and saw room for expanding his personal story. What's such a good reporter doing working for the Daily Bugle instead of the New York Times? What's his home life like? We knew he had a wife but we never saw her, so I created Doris Urich and fleshed out a relationship between them that could be tested by the events of the story. Ben's ethics are being tested twice, once in regard to the house he wants so much to buy for his wife, and again when he discovers that his mentor, Jimmy Hughes, was not as incorruptible as he believed.

In a way I modeled "Promises" after the kind of story Will Eisner did so well in THE SPIRIT: a personal story focusing on supporting characters, in which the Spirit (or in this case, Daredevil) is not the star but more a benevolent force supporting them.

Mithra: That's interesting you bring up THE SPIRIT and DD's supporting characters... Miller himself has admitted he used a lot of influences from Will Eisner for his early run, including Elektra modeled after Sand Serif. Do you consider Daredevil to be a supporting character in his own book? There are many times when I feel the title of the comic should be MATT MURDOCK because it seems to be more about him than a guy in the suit fighting crime.

Brennert: I wouldn't say supporting, more like "co-equal" characters. That's what I love about Daredevil: the whole conceit of lawyer by day, vigilante by night. Unlike Clark Kent, he's a hero in both roles, and his cases often interweave, adding depth and complexity to both. (I loved Ditko's the Question for the same reason.) Heroes don't stop being heroes when they take off their costume, and I'm generally as interested in Matt's trials (and, er, tribulations) as I am his superheroing. I think it's a perfect television franchise, too; it will be interesting to see what Marvel does with it in its new DD series.

Mithra: Just wanted to say thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Some final questions... since you mentioned the show... it appears they are going with a "darker" tone to the series. What do you think this show needs to do in order to be successful, and contrast it to what the 2003 movie tried?

Brennert: The movie tried to bring in too many elements.--Elektra, Kingpin, etc..--all at once. A TV series show needs to take it slower, establish the characters first, the franchise, the villains. Most important, though, is that balance between Matt and Daredevil. His civilian identity isn't just a disguise, like Bruce Wayne is Batman's "mask".--it's who he is, and if you stint on that, you're shortchanging your character and your franchise. I think Mark Waid is doing the perfect job of balancing the two. Darker? Sure, that worked in the past, but if the series is going to focus too heavily on violence and martial arts, that gets boring week after week; surprising characters do not.

Mithra: Just going back to the secret identity conundrum with Heather Glenn... it had become a running joke how many people knew Matt Murdock was Daredevil, and it's only now that it's completely out there. Does this comic or any comic need to have the hero have a secret identity, or have superhero comics moved past that?

Brennert: No, there are still good reasons for a superhero to have a secret identity, as Matt is discovering in the current run.-now everybody knows his once-secret superpower and therefore his weaknesses. I'll be interested to see how Mark sustains this when every two-bit villain can now blow an air horn at DD and get the drop on him. I'm betting Mark will find a way to tilt this in Daredevil's favor.

Alan Brennert is the author of the bestselling novels Moloka'i, Honolulu, and Palisades Park. For more information go to his website

(c) 2014 Kuljit Mithra & Alan Brennert
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